Donald Trump’s government is preparing Monday, July 13, to resume federal executions that have been on hold for seventeen years, despite strong opposition from religious circles, the European Union and relatives of the victims.
Saying "Act on behalf of the public and families", the Republican administration has scheduled three executions this week, and a fourth on August 28. All relate to men sentenced to death by federal courts for the murder of children.
Unless justice gives him a break at the last minute, Daniel Lee, 47, will receive a lethal injection of pentobarbital at Terre-Haute penitentiary, Indiana, on Monday. A former supporter of white supremacy, he was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder of a couple and an 8-year-old girl.
As the deadline approached, there were increasing calls for Donald Trump to be lenient towards Daniel Lee. "As a supporter of President Trump, I pray that he will hear my message: the execution of Danny Lee for the murder of my daughter and granddaughter is not what I want and will bring more pain to my family "said Earlene Peterson, who opposed the death penalty on religious grounds.
The Supreme Court seized
Together with other family members, she filed a lawsuit to obtain a postponement of the execution. Citing their vulnerability to the new coronavirus, they argued that they were faced with an impossible choice between their right to assist in the execution of the convicted person and respect for their health.
A court of first instance ruled in their favor Friday evening, but a court of appeal seized in summary procedure quashed the decision Sunday. In the process, they seized the Supreme Court, which will have to decide urgently. Mr. Lee’s lawyers have also filed procedural requests, the outcome of which is also pending.
A thousand religious leaders, Catholic and evangelical, also called on the president to stand "Focus on the protection of life and not on executions" in these times of Covid-19. Friday, the European Union asked him to "Reconsider" a position which, according to her, "Goes against a general tendency in the United States and in the world to abolish the death penalty, by law or in practice".
Fact, "Alone" 22 executions have taken place in 2019 in the United States and seven since the start of the year. Most crimes are tried at the state level, but the federal justice can deal with the most serious acts (terrorist attacks, racist crimes …) or committed on military bases, between several states or on Amerindian reservations.
Three federal executions in forty-five years
In the past 45 years, only three people have been executed at the federal level, including Timothy McVeigh, who was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing (168 dead in 1995) in 2001. The last federal execution dates back to 2003.
To everyone's surprise, the Minister of Justice, William Barr, however announced a year ago that he intended to return to this practice. After a series of judicial twists and turns, he set the schedule in June, at a time when coronavirus cases were on the rise in much of the country.
This is "Irresponsible for wanting to carry out so many executions in such a short time" in this context of health crisis, denounced Robert Dunham, the director of the Information Center on the death penalty, denouncing a “Political instrumentalization of capital punishment”.
Support for the death penalty has eroded among Americans, according to polls, but remains strong among Republican voters, who are 77% in favor of murderers. In front of his supporters, Donald Trump, who hopes to win a second term on November 3, regularly calls for a reinforced use of this ultimate sanction, especially for police killers or drug traffickers.